Making Strides for Seagrass: Meet the Fishers Island Seagrass Management Coalition
Below the water’s surface in the shallows surrounding Fishers Island, lush seagrass meadows are teeming with life. Oxygen bubbles off the blades, and small fish and invertebrates dart between plants. With luck, you could even spot a sea turtle grazing on the grass!
These meadows make up nearly a quarter of the seagrass remaining in the entirety of Long Island Sound, which has seen significant loss of its seagrass ecosystem over the past century.
This Sound-wide decline is cause for concern, as seagrass provides a multitude of benefits for people and nature. These benefits, also known as ecosystem services, include providing critical habitat for fish, shellfish, and other marine organisms, reducing shoreline erosion, improving water quality, and even helping to mitigate climate change. The meadows around Fishers Island are relatively healthy, but they are still susceptible to impacts from boating, shoreline construction, impaired water quality and effects of climate change.
Following the 2012 passage of the Seagrass Protection Act, which calls upon the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to designate seagrass management areas and consult with stakeholders so as to effectively protect and manage seagrass resources, The Nature Conservancy partnered with the H.L. Ferguson Museum and FIConservancy to convene the community-based Fishers Island Seagrass Management (FISM) Coalition to encourage and provide support for collaborative process between the Island community and New York State.
The Coalition is comprised of representatives from the H.L. Ferguson Museum, FIConservancy, Town of Southold, Island Community Board, FIDCO, Fishers Island Club, Hay Harbor Club, FI Yacht Club, Harbor Committee, FI School, Pirates Cove Marina and FI Ferry District, as well as commercial fishing, aquaculture, contracted ferries, landscapers, divers, spear fishermen, and recreational fishing representatives —groups that directly depend upon or interact with, or may affect the Island’s coastal habitats. These passionate individuals volunteer their time and expertise by attending FISM Coalition meetings and communicating to other members of the stakeholder groups they represent.
The FISM Coalition has met multiple times since its formation in 2017. The meetings are open to the public and have included informational presentations from scientists and natural resource managers to help FISM Coalition members learn about threats to seagrass and management options for it, as well as workshops to create a vision for the future of the Island’s eelgrass ecosystem.
The mission of the FISM Coalition is to promote community learning about eelgrass meadows and how to protect, sustain and care for them; strengthen productive collaborative relationships among stakeholders, both within and outside the community; and foster the protection and effective management of this important resource and the benefits it provides Fishers Island and the region.
Next steps will include identifying and aligning community and state seagrass management goals through continued discussion, joint fact-finding, supporting a monitoring program, and sharing information with the wider Island community. Community members are encouraged to attend FISM Coalition meetings and contribute to the seagrass preservation and management process. Coalition meeting dates and draft agendas are posted on the fishersisland.net community calendar and are advertised on various Island bulletin boards.
Are you interested in getting involved with seagrass conservation and management? The FISM Coalition is sponsoring a pilot water quality monitoring program from early June through mid-October, as well as monitoring human uses of seagrass areas. This monitoring will provide us with valuable local data that will be used to inform management decisions for seagrass protection!
If you would like to volunteer for monitoring, or just want to learn more about the FISM Coalition, please email Emily Bodell (FISM Project Coordinator) at email@example.com.